Monday, May 19, 2014

America Ferrera and the Cannes "Prankster" : Who Deserves Bodily Autonomy?

America Ferrera, of "Ugly Betty" Fame was the subject of harassment disguised as comedy when a man stuck his head under her skirt at the Cannes Film Festival. This isn't the first time this guy has harassed people, but it is one of the most extreme examples of personal space violations. Celebrities are all too often considered to be public domain, and their control over their own bodies seems to be somehow deemed less than that of the average citizen.  But this concept is not uncommon for women particularly to face.

The personal space of women especially is considered to be public space, and when men enter that space or violate it, it is usually not considered to be disrespectful, and is often brushed off as just a joke.Like celebrities with over zealous fans, Women are expected to be gracious in the face of male advances, or even harassment.

Another example of this sense of entitlement to female attentions was when last month a young man got in trouble for making a show of asking Miss America to Prom  Even when he was explicitly told not to cause a disturbance or put her in the awkward position of being forced to say yes for fear of  being deemed "rude". The public rushed to the defense of the young man, asking why this was a big deal, after all it was just a joke, right? But the problem was his blatant disrespect for the woman in question, seeing himself entitled to her attentions, along with his being told specifically not to do it.

Nobody seemed to wonder what effect having to deal with such an advance would have on that young woman. What if she did say yes and went to prom with him under the pressure of a crowd of people around her? Would that have been appropriate? Similarly, the man at Cannes has been called a "prankster". Is that really funny though? I don't think Miss Ferrera thought it was.

Another recent story was about the rapper Iggy Azalea who described her experience of being sexually assaulted while crowd surfing, and how she has now stopped as as a result. Predictably, she was blamed for the bad behavior of the people in the crowd, because her body is apparently seen as being public property and she was "asking for it" by getting in the crowd.

We should think about how personal space is valued in our society. Who is entitled to it and who is not? Is being a celebrity asking to have people follow you around, grab at you, or try to get pictures up your skirt? Should women be expected to act nicely to men who are harassing them? When is a person's body their own and when is it public property? This is not something as a society we often confront, but it certainly can cause a stir when you challenge people on it.